When it comes to cameras, National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson has been around the block. With a career spanning decades, Jim has seen the rise and fall of various camera trends — from black and white film to kodachrome, and now the rise of the iPhone.
Last Friday, we sat down with Jim to discuss the future of photography, the technological advances of mobile cameras, and the strengths and weaknesses of DSLR vs iPhone photography.
Along the way, Jim walked us through a handful of his most memorable photos and talked about his process when shooting and deciding which medium to use for each.
Watch to learn about:
- Jim’s process for shooting with both DSLR and iPhone cameras
- The tools and apps necessary to ensure stunning images using mobile cameras
- The various use cases for each medium and how to approach photography projects from both perspectives
Cover image by Jim Richardson.
On-Demand Webinar: iPhone vs. DSLR with Jim Richardson
Jim’s go-to mobile apps for on-the-go shooting and editing:
Photo Editing Apps:
Layout Apps for Social Media:
Special Purpose Apps:
Panols (For splitting pictures and panoramas to post on Instagram)
Note the above links are for iPhones. Most apps are also available for Android.
All your questions answered
Thank you to everyone for submitting questions throughout our conversation with Jim and during the Q&A! Read through some of Jim’s answers below and feel free to tweet any lingering questions @photoshelter.
This Q&A was lightly edited for clarity and length.
Do you use any lens attachments on your iPhone, or are you just using the regular iPhone camera?
JR: You know what? This is not a judgment call, this is just my own decision, but the more I played around with adding attachments, the more it got to be a job like using a digital SLR. And I figured, you know what I’m trying to do here? I’m trying to make an iPhone into a digital SLR, and it’s not the strength of the thing.
So I just decided that I would take the pictures I could take with the iPhone. And other jobs, I would leave to the digital SLR.
Lot of people are wondering if you’re shooting in JPEG or RAW on the iPhone?
JR: Here’s my confession. Most of those are JPEGs or HEIC.
I know they would be better in RAW and I’m probably going to kick myself somewhere down the road, but I have simply made this photography more interactive in the moment and have made my peace with that devil. And also, I just know how much space RAW pictures take up.
However, if I was going to recommend to someone that they really want ultimate quality, yeah, you shoot RAW.
What iPhone model do you have right now that you’re shooting on?
JR: I have an XS Max. I don’t have the 11. I should. I know it’s better. They’re always getting better…
And by the way, anybody who’s sitting out there with an Android, a Samsung or whatever… they’re marvelous cameras. I’m not putting them down, but I’m in the Apple universe, and the connections with my laptop and my iPad matters to me more than any marginal increase in camera. The one exception might be that I’m in envy of anybody who’s got the very best low-light camera right now. That is the next frontier.
Are mirrorless cameras the magic in the middle? What’s your familiarity with those and what are your opinions of mirrorless?
JR: Well, I’ll just go out on a limb. Mirrorless is the future, obviously for very, very many reasons, and you really don’t need a mirror flopping around in your camera anymore. The one thing is, if you’re a sports photographer capturing sports action, then yeah, you still want that Nikon D5 for follow-focus.
Other than that, I can’t think of a lot of reasons you want it. Plus the fact that it’s easier for the optical engineers to design the lenses, particularly wide-angle lenses for maximum quality on a mirrorless camera. Plus, oh my gosh, the camera can be silent. Totally silent. Do you know how many years I spent trying to get people to ignore the clack of my camera?
Jim, this is a question that I think is very topical. Mike is a high school journalism advisor in New York, and he’s saying, “Many of my colleagues and I are recognizing the need and opportunity to reimagine our yearbooks and other publications in the year ahead. If we’re learning at a distance or in a hybrid situation, we think it’ll be a lot of iPhone photography instead of everyone having access to the DSLRs. What tips would you give to high school student journalists to maximize the effectiveness with their iPhones? Is it light? Getting close? Using a third-party app? Something else?
JR: Here’s the most fundamental thing. You can teach photographic things like composition, stopping action, those kinds of things. Okay, good enough, and probably necessary. But the most fundamental thing is for the students to recognize that what they want to do is to say something.
Now, if you were doing a writing class, you would understand that it is the thing being said that is the most important, and the grammar, while necessary, cannot make a boring observation interesting. Well, you need to do that with photography as well. The students need to be prompted to look at what’s going on in their lives. What has meaning to you? What kind of interactions? What do you see in your life that you value? What do you see in your life that the adults don’t understand? If you could sit somebody down in 50 years with a picture of your life right now, what would you want to say to them? All those kinds of questions.
That is totally agnostic when it comes to camera and technique. I think one of the fundamental things that is so fascinating about Instagram today is that it’s a huge hodgepodge, but it’s almost always interesting. There are other platforms that I look at where people spend all their life in Photoshop making things look gorgeous and they’re all perfect, and they’re really boring. I think the main message for students today is don’t be boring. Be interesting. If you’re going to do anything these days, be interesting and strive to say things.
The pictures, they can be unsharpened, they can be blurry and everything, but if they say something and that gets to you, that’s the major of the photograph to me.
Anything else you’d like to share?
JR: Well, I’ll tell you what. I appreciate everybody being here. I appreciate everybody being there on my Instagram feed and Twitter and all of those things, because people say the most heartfelt things. This morning I had a comment from somebody who wanted to know if I did postcards because she sends pictures every day to her mother who has Parkinson’s and is finding it difficult to open envelopes. It’s those times when you realize that even doing something as simple as that, that pictures actually have the power to reach people, to do something in our world.
Sometimes it’s the big scale things like all the Black Lives Matter things going on today, and the major injustices that still have to be righted. And sometimes it’s just the everyday stuff of bringing something enlightening or enjoyable into our lives. I value all those pictures equally, and even those simple snapshots of your great grandparents when they were teenagers. All those things have value. It’s a wonderful time to be a photographer and to be involved in it. And it’s a wonderful time because particularly, I’m able to have these kinds of communications with you and all of those people out there and everybody else in the world. Thank you all very much for that opportunity.
Want to get the answers to all of the questions from the Q&A, plus a detailed walk-through of some of Jim’s favorite photos? Watch the on-demand webinar!